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Music for the People by the People with the People

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Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness at Norwich Arts Centre

We get what we deserve. Jovi propounded staring up into the vaulted roof of St. Swithin’s church, home to the Norwich Arts Centre. We are extreme punk. Perhaps we are going to be touched by the spirit of Holy Punk! 

Well, it was not a punk sound that anyone attending this gig had ever heard before! The term ‘punk’ was long ago subverted by The Music Biz, to become an industry genre label, all distorted guitars and shouty-shouty.  Tonight, the ecstatic audience was immersed in real punk: the attitude, the energy, the political fire, the love, the hope for better times.

The bass guitar, played by the statue-like Skhumbuzo Mahlangu Mosebetsi Ntsimande, was the only instrument that would be familiar to old, British punks.  The rest of the instruments, the mbomu, tambourine, shaker, whistles, nose whistle, cow bell, congas and bass drum would be more likely found in varieties of folk, or samba bands. However, the beauty of the most complex instrument of all, the human voice, magically topped it all off. The voices of B.C.U.C. and instruments blend into Nothing like pop music, but it grows on you, as they sing in ‘Asazani’ on their album “Our Truth”.

The seven-member of tonight’s B.C.U.C come from Soweto, a place where racism, poverty, inequality, political corruption, colonialism, corporate greed and debilitating disease has ravaged. They are touring the UK with a heavy consciousness of that history. Yes, they are keenly politically motivated, but it is this passion that fuels the energy of their music and what energy, what music! B.C.U.C.’s music is impossible to hear standing still. Their sound pulses through the soul, moves the feet, gets we, the people, dancing.

There is mention of “trance” in the promotional material for the band and it takes very little time to reach that point. The novelty of this combination of instruments when played in such unison, overlaid with the beauty of Kgmotso Neo Mokone’s backing vocals and sonic interventions, creates a mood that, I have heard tell, can only be reached using psychotropic pharmaceuticals. Tonight, no such paraphernalia was needed, the band were the source, B.C.U.C. lifted the roof off.

When Jovi announced it was time to play their last song, the protesting cries of the crowd forced him to explain that in one hour and ten minutes, they had only got through four numbers, so one more song would take about twenty minutes. Appeased by this concession, the crowd bounded back into, what some might recognise as the twirly-whirly dancing nonsense of the rave scene (1990s edition), or “limbs” in current parlance.

From the first number, Journey with Mr. Van Der Merwe, to the last, this was a very special gig.

At the end of the performance, Jovi and the band stepped into the audience and invited a boy, (who was only there because his dad could not arrange any baby-sitting) to take photos from the stage of the B.C.U.C. Jovi in the mosh pit. Jovi then took time to greet, hug and talk to the dispersing audience. I suspect the re-purposed church of St Swithin’s, (built in AD 1378, deconsecrated in 1891), has rarely witnessed such spontaneous spiritual bonding.

B.C.U.C. at the Norwich Arts Centre. Photo by M. Stephen
B.C.U.C. at the Norwich Arts Centre. Photo by M. Stephen

Finally, I must give credit to the superb warm up band, Nebula Sun.  These Norfolk-based musicians, led by Tommy Jonson on guitar and including two harmonious tenor saxophones, deserve a stage of their own.  In their necessarily very short set, it was immediately clear that this is a talented and tight band, who can get an audience moving too.

Nebula Sun mix sounds drawn from an array of global influences, not least, elements of African Jazz. I particularly enjoyed the track Sonar. If you see them on a bill somewhere, get away from the bar and listen to them for yourselves. They’re very good.